My mom said that I loved to write as soon as I knew how to scribble on the page. 1994 was when everything changed–I got my first journal.
They were given out by my first-grade teacher Ms. Strinban. She had long blonde hair and freckles all over her body. She would get red when she was mad or when it was too hot. Some teachers were just there for the paycheck, just hanging around until retirement was workable, but not Ms. Strinban.
Her wrinkles showed when she smiled and laughed often, especially when playing that guitar for us at the end of the school day.
Her eyes and voice were soft, but with the right blend of assertiveness and confidence to keep a class in order. She was my favorite elementary school teacher and there was no one like her.
Because I was a shy girl, writing in this journal was a way to express myself. I would write about anything ranging from places I wanted to visit, when I was sick, going to McDonald’s when I first learned about Martin Luther King, and my favorite toys.
I would also write about kiddie pool tinkering, super soaker wars, and hula hooping because that’s what kids did in the 90s.
My imagination would just run wild on the blank pages. I wrote in it until 1997. I would make illustrated storybooks out of construction paper and staple them together. I kept writing on and off during my teenage and early adulthood years.
One day Ms. Strinban came to us with colored hard covered blank books. Mine was dark green. She told us to write a story so that she could send it off to the white house. The president at the time was Bill Clinton.
I was so excited about this project. I got to show off my God-given talent to the president. I really don’t remember what I wrote about, but I remember that feeling of the writing process liberating me with words.
It showed me the house within. It gave me the key to every door. My imagination allowed me to walk all of its passageways and see inside every room. That is the world I wish for my children to inherit.
This was my first published book lol. To this day, I wonder if Bill Clinton ever saw my six-year-old writing. It was then that I knew I wanted to become a writer when I grew up and it was later that I discovered I wanted to help other people come out of their shells and share their stories with the world.
And Still I Rise
I wanted to be so much like Maya Angelou growing up. Maya Angelou (Marguerite Annie Johnson) was and will always be an incredible, remarkable, spiritually strong, and humble woman who touched the lives of so many women.
It would be a disservice to just remember her only as a poet. The singer, dancer, creator, and activist’s stories and perseverance showed African American women that we can rise from any circumstance.
From the outside looking in, she had a heroic, courageous, and stubborn way about her I wanted to aspire to. Phenomenally, Maya Angelou was every woman.
Having been a young girl who once felt ashamed to appear in the light, Maya Angelou’s 1978 published poem “Still I Rise” became my favorite poem. It was my understanding that it was from the lens of a woman who was rejected by the world and its cruel definition of beauty and success.
It is a tale of a girl who transformed into a woman who has pride in the person she is inside and out. Her use of metaphorical phrases, choice of vivid vocabulary, and beautiful similes, shows a crafted message of strength and endurance in this poem.
I aspired to be a writer as great as her and would picture myself being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey.
Maya Angelou’s 1995 lyrical poem “Phenomenal Woman” broke stereotypes. It is where feminine beauty was challenged. It is this poem, that really showed that REAL beauty comes from a place of confidence and self-acceptance. This is a wonderful read!
Because of her, I am proud to say that I am a woman phenomenally, phenomenal woman, that’s me!
Advice for Young Writers
My advice to new and aspiring writers is to read. Read widely and read any book you can get your hands on.
Read the boring stuff too, because the more you read, the more knowledge you will have and the better writer you will be. Your writing will become natural to you because you will have the basic knowledge of how to write a story that people will want to read.
Writing takes practice, so write all the time. Create a daily writing schedule. Know when your brain functions best. For me, it is early in the morning.
Keep everything because you are gathering life experiences and tidbits that can be something later. This is how my memoir Dry Bones was created. I kept a recollection of my memoirs in a notebook and later turned it into a story that people could relate to.
Write like your favorite author. I am not saying plagiarize. Find out what you like about their style, sentence structure, genre, etc. Then take what you like and try to produce it in your own work.
For me, it was Maya Angelou’s matter-of-fact tone in her writing that I wanted to adopt in mine. I liked her use of repeated patterns of rhyming couplets to create a steady rhythm throughout her poems.
If I can be quite honest, writing can be hard and emotionally draining. It may be an uphill battle as everything is, but I promise it is so worth it if you can’t see yourself doing anything else in this world. It may be an uphill battle, but everything is.
Keep writing, stick to it, and the fruits of your labor will pay off!
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